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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

Jayne: Act’s anniversary a time to reflect

By Greg Jayne, Columbian Opinion Page Editor
Published: August 19, 2023, 6:02am

What does it do? What has it done? How can average Americans assess the Inflation Reduction Act aside from the partisan rancor that infects political discussions?

One year ago this week, President Joe Biden signed the landmark legislation. It included provisions for investing in domestic energy production, promoting clean energy, lowering prescription drug prices, increasing corporate tax rates and implementing other goals of Democrats in Washington, D.C. In fact, it passed both chambers of Congress with full support from Democrats and nary a Republican vote.

The bill, for $750 billion in spending over 10 years, is expected to reduce the federal deficit by $238 billion during that span. That might not sound like much when the debt is more than $32 trillion, but at least it’s not a step backward.

In truth, analysts say, the legislation had little to do with inflation. But because increasing prices were Americans’ favorite conversation topic a year ago, mentioning “inflation reduction” in the title was an effective way to generate public support — or pull the wool over the public’s eyes, depending upon your perspective. As a column for the conservative Heritage Foundation declared a year ago, “Inflation Reduction Act Shows Far Left’s Extremism and Elitism.”

That might equate to a metric ton of hyperbole, but there is plenty of room for debate about the law. That is a good thing; the legislation, as much as any other, defines the policy divisions between the parties, with Democrats eager to use government spending to guide the economy and Republicans defending fairness and the free market — unless we’re talking about subsidies for oil companies or tariffs on imports or tax cuts that primarily benefit the wealthy.

And, to be honest, it is refreshing to be debating policy rather than focusing on the chaos fomented by a twice-impeached charlatan who is now facing dozens of felony charges.

With the one-year anniversary of the legislation, there have been plenty of news reports about it, and a couple are particularly interesting. For example, the Treasury Department this week announced that more than $500 billion in manufacturing investments have been announced, and a large percentage of those are going to depressed communities.

That includes a $3 billion project to build the nation’s largest clean ammonia production facility on a reclaimed coal mining site in Mingo County, W.Va. According to CNN Business, Mingo “is one of America’s poorest counties. Nearly one-third of its residents live below the poverty line, only a third of its population is employed, and countless lives have been upended by opioid addiction.”

According to the Biden administration, more than 65 percent of announced clean-energy investments are in counties with above-average poverty rates, and a similar percentage are in counties with above-average unemployment rates.

That didn’t prevent Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V., from saying that as “Democrats celebrate the one-year anniversary of their partisan climate and regulatory spending spree, the reality is the results have been devastating for the American people.”

Maybe, maybe not, and it will take years to accurately assess the impact of the legislation. But the issue highlights perhaps the most perplexing piece of our hyperpartisan times — the stubborn insistence of some people to vote against their own best interests.

President Donald Trump’s proposal for boosting struggling rural communities was to “bring back coal.” He frequently trumpeted “infrastructure week” — projects that make it easier and safer to move goods and people — but proved to be all bluster and no action. And he sought to eliminate rural development as a core mission of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The list goes on, demonstrating that Trump is the archenemy of rural communities. And they love him for it.

All of which helps frame the debate over the Inflation Reduction Act. Because discussing how and when to invest in America is a little more important than the issues that often distract us.